Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Geraldine Brooks

I just read a review by Cliff Reed of Geraldine Brooks' novel March in The Inquirer, which made me want to go and buy it. Having looked at her other books, I also bought Year of Wonders (which is about the plague year in Eyam in Derbyshire) and People of the Book (which is about a book restorer who restores and investigates the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah).

March is a novel about the father of the March girls in Little Women, and is based on the life of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott's father. I like novels which throw a sidelight on other novels (Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea being another excellent example), so this should be an excellent read.
From Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks has taken the character of the absent father, March, who has gone off to war leaving his wife and daughters. To evoke him, Brooks turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

In Brooks’ telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism. As he recovers from a near mortal illness, he must reassemble his shattered mind and body, and find a way to reconnect with a wife and daughters who have no idea of the ordeals he has been through.
Year of Wonders should be of interest to British Unitarians, as the village of Eyam is only just up the road from Great Hucklow, the Unitarian conference and holiday centre. The story of Eyam is incredibly moving; I first heard of it at school when I was 10 or 11, and it made a big impression on me; but this summer was the first opportunity I had had to visit Eyam itself, and witness the scene of the amazing self-sacrifice of its people, who quarantined themselves to protect the rest of Derbyshire from the plague.

People of the Book is a fictionalised account of the remarkable preservation of the Sarajevo Haggadah. The real story of this book is amazing, too:
The history of the remarkable man, Dervis Korkut, who saved the book from the Nazi officers who sought it, was told in the December 3, 2007 issue of The New Yorker magazine. The article, entitled "The Book of Exodus", also by Geraldine Brooks, sets out the equally remarkable story of the young Jewish girl, Mira Papo, whom Korkut and his wife hid from the Nazis as they were acting to save the Haggadah. In a twist of fate, as an elderly woman in Israel, Mira Papo secured the safety of Korkut's daughter from the Serbian genocide of the 1990s.
The pictures in the Sarajevo Haggadah depict scenes from the Torah, including Jacob's ladder, Joseph's dream of the wheat and the cattle, the offering of Isaac, Noah's Ark, and many more.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The real heroes of LGBT liberation

Over at Pink News, Peter Tatchell (a hero of mine) reminds us that Quentin Crisp had feet of clay. He did not support LGBT liberation in the 60s and 70s, and wanted to be "the only gay in the village"; he also made that stupid comment about AIDS. He had clearly internalised the homophobia of those around him.

On the other hand, a friend of a friend called him up when he was in New York, and Quentin Crisp invited him round for tea, and they spent about an hour chatting; I think my friend's friend found him charming.

Peter Tatchell continues:
The true icons and pioneers of the modern British gay community are heroes like Allan Horsfall and Antony Grey. They were the driving forces of the first gay rights organisations in Britain – the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee set up in 1964 and the Homosexual Law Reform Society, established earlier in 1958. These two men, who are still alive and have never received the public recognition they deserve, have done far more for gay dignity and advancement than Quentin Crisp.

Crisp is a pale shadow of US gay rights trailblazers like Harry Hay, Frank Kameny, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
So yes, let's celebrate the real heroes and heroines of LGBT liberation:

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1810-1865
Novelist, daughter of William Stevenson, a Unitarian minister, and for some time Keeper of the Treasury Records. She married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister, at Manchester, and in 1848 published anonymously her first book, Mary Barton, in which the life and feelings of the manufacturing working classes are depicted with much power and sympathy. Other novels followed, Lizzie Leigh (1855), Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (1865), Ruth (1853), Cranford (1851–3), North and South (1855), Sylvia’s Lovers (1863), etc. Her last work was Wives and Daughters (1865), which appeared in the Cornhill Magazine, and was left unfinished.

Mrs. Gaskell had some of the characteristics of Miss Austen, and if her style and delineation of character are less minutely perfect, they are, on the other hand, imbued with a deeper vein of feeling. She was the friend of Charlotte Brontë, to whom her sympathy brought much comfort, and whose Life she wrote. Of Cranford Lord Houghton wrote, “It is the finest piece of humoristic description that has been added to British literature since Charles Lamb.”

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]
Beatrix Potter, another Unitarian, was a family friend; and Frances Power Cobbe, the Unitarian feminist, was a personal friend.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Skirts for men

Guy in a Skirt playing a Saxophone
It seems bizarre that people are still hung up about seeing a man in a skirt. Women have been wearing trousers since 1850 (earlier in the case of female miners), so why has it taken so long for men's fashion to be rationalised in the same way? There was a brief bout of skirt-wearing in the nineties, but it seems to have subsided.

Men can wear sarongs on the beach, kilts and priestly garb (and there are plenty of pictures of Jesus in a dress), but people are still intolerant of men wearing actual skirts. Why? It's only a piece of cloth. It must be because the Western definition of masculinity is still so circumscribed by convention that people can't imagine a man being a man unless he's hairy and/or betrousered. There's still a strong taboo against men crying, for instance.

Men who wear skirts: I salute you from the bottom of my heart. You are pioneers as much as the early feminists in their bloomers.
We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,
Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

~ Walt Whitman
Here's some sites about men in skirts:


Bloomers (trousers for women) were invented by Elizabeth Smith Miller and pioneered by early feminists and advocates of rational dress. Amelia Jenks Bloomer (May 27, 1818 – December 30, 1894) was an American women's rights and temperance advocate. Even though she did not create the women's clothing reform style known as bloomers, her name became associated with it because of her early and strong advocacy. She was the the first woman to own, operate and edit a newspaper for women, The Lily, which was a voice for many women reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It spoke on many issues such as dress reform and the need for enfranchisement for women.

The first woman to wear trousers (circa 1820) in America was arrested for indecency.

I very rarely wear a skirt and feel deeply uncomfortable in one, so I salute these pioneers of trouser-wearing.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


How lovely. Susie Orbach and Jeanette Winterson are an item. And they're in love. Winterson wrote in her blog:
I am in love. Unexpected. Glorious. Happy. A great dancer and an amazing cook. How lucky am I? And yes, she is very smart and totally together. And she loves me too. Wow.

And when I say unexpected, I mean that I wasn’t looking, and certainly not in that direction. As ever, the important things happen by chance, unplanned, unseen.
Jeanette Winterson is one of my favourite authors - Oranges are not the only fruit was a very important book for me when I was discovering my own inclinations (I'm bisexual), and I love her other stuff as well.

I never got around to reading Fat is a feminist issue (I preferred Shelley Bovey's The Forbidden Body) but I notice that Orbach is doing the 2010 Price lecture at the "birthplace of feminism" Newington Green and Islington Unitarians, the church attended by Mary Wollstonecraft.

There is some speculation that the press will be all sleazy about this - that would be terribly sad in this day and age, but sadly it does happen; people still have misconceptions about LGBT people, and we have not yet reached the stage where your gender and/or sexual orientation is irrelevant. On the other hand, the Evening Standard has a rather positive article about this and Mary Queen of Shops' relationship.

Anyway, I hope that Mss Orbach and Winterson will be very happy together. We here at The Bluestocking would like to raise a virtual glass of champagne to toast their continuing happiness.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour - on science and prostitution (New Scientist)
Under the name Belle de Jour, Brooke Magnanti wrote about her experiences as a prostitute for a London escort agency, and her blog became a bestselling book, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl, and a television series.

She has a master's degree in genetic epidemiology and a PhD from the University of Sheffield's department of forensic pathology.
I think Brooke Magnanti qualifies as a bluestocking. Pleasingly, the interview starts with details of her scientific research, including a possible link between thyroid cancer in women in Cumbria, in north-west England, and fallout from Chernobyl in Ukraine; and an examination of policy for the assessment of risks from organophosphates.

Is prostitution necessarily degrading? Well in an ideal world, sex should happen in an atmosphere of mutual respect, kindness, and with respect for the other person - as a person, not an object. Most prostitution fails in that respect. However, history is littered with stories of men who fell for ladies of the night, and not all of them are fictional. And Belle de Jour was careful about who she slept with; she says, "I trusted my instincts, and the agency was very good about vetting clients as well." So clearly, she was not degraded or treated as a sex object.

I think prostitution should be properly regulated (but no-one should ever be pressurised into taking a job as a prostitute).

We need to end the exploitative and dangerous side of prostitution - streetwalking, the links with drug addiction, pimping etc.

It's not just men paying for sex with women; there are plenty of women who would pay for sex with men, as long as it was safe to do so. And I imagine the same applies to same-sex arrangements as well. This happens in other countries where they don't have such ridiculous double standards.

Let's get over the ridiculous idea that men are beasts with insatiable sexual appetites and women are frigid, so men must pay women to do it. It just happens that we all have urges and sometimes paying to satisfy them would be the simplest solution.

Best wishes to Ms Magnanti for a successful scientific career. I hope that this revelation will make no difference to her career. After all, science is meant to be rational and sensible, right? And based on empirical evidence like how good you are at your job - not on what you did to get by as a student. Besides, it's obvious that she is really dedicated to science if she was prepared to do something so controversial to fund her studies.

Oh yes, and let's fund PhDs properly too, so people don't need to do other jobs to fund them.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A Room of One's Own

This month marks the 80th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s celebrated feminist essay A Room of One's Own. Radio 4's Woman's Hour on 22 October was dedicated to it. If, like me, other Bluestockings relish the concept of a place to write and think in peace, you will enjoy the musings of the four women writers in the programme on their own 'rooms' (or lack of).

From the BBC website:
"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". 80 years ago this month Virginia Woolf published these words in an essay that was to become one of the seminal feminist texts of our age. A Room of One’s Own has shaped the way in which creative achievement by men and women is viewed, and provided a point of reference for generations of female writers. Woolf uses the ‘room’ as a symbol for privacy, leisure time, and financial independence, all of which have been historically lacking for women. To mark the anniversary, a special programme looks at this remarkable essay and its continuing relevance to women today who are struggling to find the mental and physical space for their creativity. Jenni talks to Hermione Lee, author of an acclaimed biography of Virginia Woolf; the academic and author Susan Sellers; and the novelists Val McDermid and Jill Dawson. We also visit a room that Virginia Woolf called her own - a specially constructed writing lodge at the bottom of her garden at Monk’s House in Sussex.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Jennie Loitman Barron (1891-1969)

  • Judge, lawyer, and suffragist
  • president of the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers
  • campaigned for uniform marriage and divorce laws, as well as for women’s right to serve on juries
  • had a thirty-five year career as a judge
  • became associate justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court in 1957 — the first woman to hold this position
  • remained active in the Jewish community throughout her career
  • first president of the Women’s Auxiliary of Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital
  • first president of the New England Women’s Division of the American Jewish Congress
More at Jewish Women's Archive

Elinor Ostrom

Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom, who has jointly (with Oliver E. Williamson) won the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. According to Wikipedia:
Ostrom is considered one of the leading scholars in the study of common pool resources. In particular, Ostrom's work emphasizes how humans interact with ecosystems to maintain long-term sustainable resource yields. Common pool resources include many forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems. Ostrom's work has considered how societies have developed diverse institutional arrangements for managing natural resources and avoided ecosystem collapse in many cases, even though some arrangements have failed to prevent resource exhaustion. Her current work emphasizes the multifaceted nature of human–ecosystem interaction and argues against any singular "panacea" for individual social-ecological system problems. .... In 2009, Ostrom became the first woman to receive the prestigious Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Ostrom "for her analysis of economic governance," saying her work had demonstrated how common property could be successfully managed by groups using it.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Barbara Bodichon

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon was a Unitarian and a Pre-Raphaelite painter. I discovered this by chance because I was reading The Unitarian Life by Stephen Lingwood and Pre-Raphaelite Women Artists by Jan Marsh and Pamela Gerrish Nunn at the same time, and her name appeared in both. She was also a pioneer of the women's rights movement, a founder of Girton College, Cambridge and The Englishwoman's Journal. She knew George Eliot, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, and was related to Florence Nightingale (another famous Unitarian). Definitely a top-flight bluestocking.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Climate Rush

The delightfully eccentric Climate Rush will be travelling to Bristol on Sunday 20th September and staying there for Monday. They are travelling from Heathrow to Totnes by horse and cart, dressed as suffragettes and spreading the word about climate change and celebrating the best practice that they find.

Whilst in Bristol they will be holding a picnic on College Green at 1pm (until 3-ish) on Monday 21st and as they say:
"Bring food, drink, family and music to our anti-airport expansion picnic protest – to be held on College Green. We'll be holding forums on the grass with Friends of the Earth to discuss BIA issues and celebrate the city council's formal objection to it!"

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Feminist conference

Feminist Theory & Activism in Global Perspective 26 Sept London – free

To celebrate 30 years, Feminist Review is organising a conference to address theory and activism:
  • Why is feminism still globally resonant?
  • How are theory and practice regionally and disciplinarily located?
  • How do we integrate feminism in our own work?
  • What does global feminist dialogue look like?
  • How is transnational feminist theory being produced?
Saturday 26th September 2009 from 9.30 to 18.30
Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Russell Square, London
Attendance is free, but RSVP to Gender.Institute.Frconference@lse.ac.uk

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Feminism as an intellectual tradition

The first feminist was of course Lilith, who refused to lie underneath Adam. Apart from these mythical origins, the first stirrings of feminist thought appear in the Middle Ages with a treatise by Christine de Pizan cautiously arguing that women are just as good as men; and in the fourteenth century, women could practise trades (such as brewing) and learn Latin and so on. Unfortunately the Reformation was bad news for women, as many of our freedoms were taken away. But in the seventeenth century, a huge band of women marched on Parliament demanding the vote (sadly I think I don't have the book that described this any more, and can't find anything about it on the web).

In the eighteenth century we have Mary Wollstonecraft and A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), in which she argues that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. And of course her daughter arguably founded science fiction with her Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft was one of many women writers in the 18th century (not all of whom were feminists, however).

In the 19th and early 20th century, there was the first wave of feminism, primarily concerned with women's legal rights. Two important legal landmarks here: the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870 which said that a woman's wages were her own; and 1882, which said that a woman's property remained her own after marriage; and the granting of women's right to vote.

The second wave
refers to a period of feminist activity which began during the early 1960s and lasted throughout the late 1970s. Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on overturning legal (de jure) obstacles to equality (i.e. voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism successfully addressed a wide range of issues, including unofficial (de facto) inequalities, official legal inequalities, sexuality, family, the workplace, and, perhaps most controversially, reproductive rights. (Wikipedia)
Critics of second-wave feminism point out that it merely inverted sexist gender stereotypes and was essentialist in its view of gender. Some feminists claimed that women were naturally nurturing and men were naturally aggressive, but whereas patriarchy valued male aggression, second-wave feminism valued female nurturing.

Third-wave feminism points out that gender is a performance and the importance of biological sex is socially constructed. This wave is influenced by postmodernism, postcolonialism and queer theory. Critics have complained that it lacks a single issue to focus on, but so did the second wave. It has also been suggested that the third wave is more sensitive to women in other social contexts (different classes and countries), whereas the second wave was unintentionally colonialist in its universalising tendencies.

Another way of characterising the different strands of feminism is to divide it into subtypes:
Amazon · Anarchist · Atheist · Black · Chicana · Christian · Cultural · Cyber · Difference · Eco · Equity · Equality · Fat · Gender · Global · Goddess · Individualist · Islamic · Jewish · Lesbian · Liberal · Lipstick · Marxist · Material · New · Postcolonial · Postmodern · Pro-life · Proto · Radical · Separatist · Sex-positive · Socialist · Standpoint · Theology · Third world · Trans · Womanism

(Oh dear, now I am going to have to read all of these articles to work out what type of feminist I would be classified as. Isn't there a Facebook quiz for this sort of thing? I did one the other day which worked out what kind of anarchist you were - I was a post-structuralist anarchist. Aha, found a quiz on Quizilla, Which Western feminist icon are you, and I came up as Judith Butler (no surprises there, but I hope I write more comprehensibly than she does). And SelectSmart has a What type of feminist are you quiz, which classifies me as a liberal feminist.)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The underpinnings of feminism

Heresy Corner critiques an article by one Melissa McEwan.

Misogyny, Up Close and Personal, by Melissa McEwan, in The Guardian.

She complains that when she makes a feminist statement, intellectual men like to argue the toss with her about it, which makes her cry because they don't understand her trauma. Well, surprise, feminism is an intellectual tradition and a set of propositions about the underlying causes of social phenomena: so it's open to debate.

Yes, her lived experience has clearly been traumatic, and I am sorry she has had a rough ride. But one person's life experience does not make a sociological treatise - it's anecdotal evidence. Her experience is not the same as mine - most men I know are very supportive of my feminist views; and I have not experienced nonconsensual frottage on public transport. I have not been raped. I have experienced sexual harassment and verbal abuse, but it is increasingly rare.

I can't abide the sort of essentialism that assumes that women are all-nurturing earth-mother types and men are all abstract intellectuals, or inherently violent, and never the twain shall meet. It's like something out of GK Chesterton (who said something along these lines).

I can back up my particular variety of feminism with intellectual arguments, and moreover, would expect to do so if challenged. If feminism is a worthwhile discourse, we must be able to back it up with sound intellectual arguments and real sociological and ethnographic evidence.

Alan Turing petition

The Bluestocking has already identified Alan Turing as one of our heroes. Now it's time for ardent bluestockings to put our money where our mouths are, and sign up to the petition for a public apology to recognise that he was hounded to his untimely death by a bigoted establishment.

The details from the petition's creator state:
Alan Turing was the greatest computer scientist ever born in Britain. He laid the foundations of computing, helped break the Nazi Enigma code and told us how to tell whether a machine could think.

He was also gay. He was prosecuted for being gay, chemically castrated as a 'cure', and took his own life, aged 41.

The British Government should apologize to Alan Turing for his treatment and recognize that his work created much of the world we live in and saved us from Nazi Germany. And an apology would recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man's life and career.
I have long been an admirer of Mr Turing and urge you to sign this petition without delay.

Sixth Sense

Pranav Mistry has developed absolutely amazingly awesome wearable technology, called the Sixth Sense. It's a device that can project data onto stuff you are looking at; like Amazon ratings of books you are browsing in a bookshop, or whether the toilet-roll in the supermarket is environmentally sound. Go and watch the video, it's quite mind-boggling really (and no brain implants are required - yet). More information is available at his website.

A commenter on the TED site points out that you could use it in museums to learn more about the artefacts. It could have scary applications, like seeing data about people (though it would be an interesting ice-breaker at parties). But that is the case with all new technology.

The aspect of this that beats being able to browse the web from your mobile phone is that it selects the information you need instead of you having to searchfor it; so it knows you're looking at a book or a newspaper and reacts accordingly. How? How does it know?

Anyway, in short, I want one of those.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

stories that never were

Wired.com has a wistful yearning for stories that never were.

I agree that I would like to see Harry Potter as an Auror, but suspect that Ms Rowling will turn to other things. I am not sure what else could be done with Lord of the Rings, but interestingly, Tolkien didn't mind the idea of other people writing stories in his universe.

So here's my list of books that I would like to read:
  • A sequel to Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin. This is one of my favourite books, and is about the deep mythological and spiritual relationship that is possible between people and landscape
  • The final part of Robertson Davies' Toronto Trilogy (I loved the second one, The Cunning Man, though I was not so keen on the first one, Murther and Walking Spirits)
  • Branwell Brontë's diary, conclusively proving that he did not write his sisters' novels (well, obviously I know he didn't, but it offends me that some people think he did)
  • Radclyffe Hall's lost lesbian steampunk novel
  • The gospel according to Jesus (he was writing one, but "I'm not the one and only Messiah" and "why can't you all be nice to each other for a change" were not messages that went down very well with the gospel-reading public). Fortunately you can now read fictional gospels according to Judas and Mary Magdalene and Jesus too.
  • The original scripts for the Eleusinian Mysteries. They were probably never written down, as the mysteries were only ever revealed to initiates. The rites were suppressed by the Christians and lost.
What books-that-never-were would you like to read?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

sinister and proud of it

Happy International Left-Handers' Day.

(And thanks to Geekologie for reminding me - I forgot!)


A guest post by Sannion.

Kleopatra was an awesome woman, no doubt about it. Here are some of my favorite passages about her showing just how awesome she could be. (Some of these stories are pure fabrication – but they’re still fun to read and go towards establishing the mythical persona of Kleopatra which, more than the reality - which we can never really know - is what we revere.)

She was charming and learned
“For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behavior towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased, so that in her interviews with Barbarians she very seldom had need of an interpreter, but made her replies to most of them herself and unassisted, whether they were Ethiopians, Troglodytes, Hebrews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes or Parthians. Nay, it is said that she knew the speech of many other peoples also, although the kings of Egypt before her had not even made an effort to learn the native language, and some actually gave up their Makedonian dialect.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 27.2-4

She was a philosopher and alchemist
“Ptolemy was succeeded by his daughter, Kleopatra. Her reign lasted twenty-two years. She was wise, tried her hand at philosophy and was a close companion to wise men. She has works, both bearing her name and ascribed to her, of medicine, magic, and science, known by those well-versed in such things. This Queen was the last of the Greek Queens, so that with her death their reign ended, their era was forgotten, the vestiges of their civilization were obliterated, and their sciences, except for what remained in the hands of their wise men, disappeared.” – Al-Mas’udi, Prairies of Gold

She worked tirelessly for the interests of her people
“And she raised a dike against the waters of the sea with stones and earth, and made the place of the waters over which they voyaged formerly in ships into dry land, and she made it passable on foot. And this stupendous and difficult achievement she wrought through the advice of a wise man named Dexiphanes. Next she constructed a canal to sea, and she brought water from the river Gihon and conducted it into the city. This made it easier for ships to come into port. And by this means she brought it about that there was great abundance and much food for the people to eat. And she executed all these works in vigilant care for the well-being of her city. And before she died she executed many noble works and created important institutions. And this woman, the most illustrious and wise amongst women, died in the fourteenth year of the reign of Caesar Augustus. Thereupon the inhabitants of Alexandria and of lower and upper Egypt submitted to the emperors of Rome, who set over them prefects and generals.” – John, Bishop of Nikiu, The Chronicle 67.5-10

She was the physical incarnation of Isis-Aphrodite
“Kleopatra, indeed, both then and at other times when she appeared in public, assumed a robe sacred to Isis, and was addressed as the New Isis.” - Plutarch, Life of Antony54.6

Venus has come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia
“Though Kleopatra received many letters of summons both from Antony himself and from his friends, she was so bold as to sail up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded poop, its sails spread purple, its rowers urging it on with silver oars to the sound of the flute blended with pipes and lutes. She herself reclined beneath a canopy spangled with gold, adorned like Venus in a painting, while boys like Loves in paintings stood on either side and fanned her. Likewise also the fairest of her serving-maidens, attired like Nereïds and Graces, were stationed, some at the rudder-sweeps, and others at the reefing-ropes. Wondrous odours from countless incense-offerings diffused themselves along the river-banks. Of the inhabitants, some accompanied her on either bank of the river from its very mouth, while others went down from the city to behold the sight. The throng in the market-place gradually streamed away, until at last Antony himself, seated on his tribunal, was left alone. And a rumour spread on every hand that Venus was come to revel with Bacchus for the good of Asia.” - Plutarch, Life of Antony 26.1-3

There was a wild streak to her
“But Kleopatra, distributing her flattery, not into the four forms of which Plato speaks, but into many, and ever contributing some fresh delight and charm to Antony's hours of seriousness or mirth, kept him in constant tutelage, and released him neither night nor day. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him, and watched him as he exercised himself in arms; and when by night he would station himself at the doors or windows of the common folk and scoff at those within, she would go with him on his round of mad follies, wearing the garb of a serving maiden. For Antony also would try to array himself like a servant. Therefore he always reaped a harvest of abuse, and often of blows, before coming back home; though most people suspected who he was. However, the Alexandrians took delight in their graceful and cultivated way; they liked him, and said that he used the tragic mask with the Romans, but the comic mask with them.” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 29

She had a wicked sense of humor
“Now, to recount the greater part of his boyish pranks would be great nonsense. One instance will suffice. He was fishing once, and had bad luck, and was vexed at it because Kleopatra was there to see. He therefore ordered his fishermen to dive down and secretly fasten to his hook some fish that had been previously caught, and pulled up two or three of them. But the Egyptian saw through the trick, and pretending to admire her lover's skill, told her friends about it, and invited them to be spectators of it the following day. So great numbers of them got into the fishing boats, and when Antony had let down his line, she ordered one of her own attendants to get the start of him by swimming onto his hook and fastening on it a salted Pontic herring. Antony thought he had caught something, and pulled it up, whereupon there was great laughter, as was natural, and Kleopatra said: ‘Imperator, hand over thy fishing-rod to the fishermen of Pharos and Kanopos; thy sport is the hunting of cities, realms, and continents.’” – Plutarch, Life of Antony 29.3-4

They knew how to throw a party
“Antony sent, therefore, and invited her to supper; but she thought it meet that he should rather come to her. At once, then, wishing to display his complacency and friendly feelings, Antony obeyed and went. He found there a preparation that beggared description, but was most amazed at the multitude of lights. For, as we are told, so many of these were let down and displayed on all sides at once, and they were arranged and ordered with so many inclinations and adjustments to each other in the form of rectangles and circles, that few sights were so beautiful or so worthy to be seen as this.... In Alexandria, indulging in the sports and diversions of a young man of leisure, he squandered and spent upon pleasures that which Antiphon calls the most costly outlay, namely, time. For they had an association called The Inimitable Livers, and every day they feasted one another, making their expenditures of incredible profusion. At any rate, Philotas, the physician of Amphissa, used to tell my grandfather, Lamprias, that he was in Alexandria at the time, studying his profession, and that having got well acquainted with one of the royal cooks, he was easily persuaded by him (young man that he was) to take a view of the extravagant preparations for a royal supper. Accordingly, he was introduced into the kitchen, and when he saw all the other provisions in great abundance, and eight wild boars a-roasting, he expressed his amazement at what must be the number of guests. But the cook burst out laughing and said: ‘The guests are not many, only about twelve; but everything that is set before them must be at perfection, and this an instant of time reduces. For it might happen that Antony would ask for supper immediately, and after a little while, perhaps, would postpone it and call for a cup of wine, or engage in conversation with some one. Wherefore,’ he said, ‘not one, but many suppers are arranged; for the precise time is hard to hit.’” - Plutarch, Life of Antony 27,28

The incident with the pearl
“There have been two pearls that were the largest in the whole of history; both were owned by Cleopatra, the last of the Queens of Egypt--they had come down to her through the hands of the Kings of the East. When Antony was fattening himself every day at decadent banquets, she with a pride both lofty and impudent, a queenly courtesan, disparaged his elegance and sumptuous display, and when he asked what magnificence could be added on, she replied that she would spend ten million sesterces on a banquet. Antony was curious, but did not think it could be done. Consequently, with bets made, on the next day, on which the trial was carried out, she set before Antony a banquet that elsewhere would be magnificent, so that the day might not be wasted, but that was for them quite ordinary, and Antony laughed and exclaimed over its cheapness. But she, claiming that it was a gratuity, and that the banquet would complete the account and she alone would consume ten million sesterces, ordered the second course to be served. In accordance with previous instructions the servants placed in front of her only a single vessel containing vinegar, the strong rough quality of which can melt pearls. She was at the moment wearing in her ears that remarkable and truly unique work of nature. Antony was full of curiosity to see what in the world she was going to do. She took one earring off and dropped the pearl in the vinegar, and when it was melted swallowed it. Lucius Plancus, the judge of the wager, put his hand on the other pearl since she was preparing to destroy it also in a similar fashion, and declared that Antony had lost, an omen that later came true. With this goes the story that, when that queen who had won on this important issue was captured, the second of this pair of pearls was cut in two pieces, so that half a helping of the jewel might be in each of the ears of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome.” – Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 9.119-121

Men thought death a small price to pay to sleep with her
“Cleopatra was so lustful that she often prostituted herself, and so beautiful that many men bought night with her at the price of their lives.” – Sextus Aurelius Victor, De Viris Illustribus Urbis Romae 86.2

A modern Russian adaptation of the above anecdote
“I swear, O mother of passion, I will serve you in unheard ways, on the couch of passionate sins I will come as a common slave. So look, powerful Cytherean, and you underground kings, O gods of ferocious Hades; I swear to the morning sunrise the wishes of my lords I will tire with voluptuous passion and with all secrets of kisses and with wondrous nakedness those wishes I will quench. But as soon as with a morning purple the eternal Aurora will shine forth, I swear: under the deadly axe the heads of these lucky ones will fall.” – Alexander Pushkin, Egyptian Nights

She knew how to get her point across
“For in preparation for the Actian war, when Antony feared the attentiveness of the Queen herself and did not take any food unless it had been tasted beforehand, she is said to have played on his fear and dipped the tips of the flowers in his crown in poison and then put the crown on his head; soon, as the revelry proceeded, she suggested to Antony that they drink their crowns. Who would thus fear treachery? Therefore with a hand put in his way he was beginning to drink the pieces gathered into the cup she said, ‘Look, I am she, Mark Antony, of whom you are wary with your new wish for tasters. If I could live without you, this is the extent to which I lack opportunity and motive!’ She ordered a prisoner who had been led in to drink it and he promptly expired.” – Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 21.12

Beloved by the gods of Egypt
“The young girl, Kleopatra, daughter of the ruler, created by the ruler, beloved of the gods of Egypt, adorned by Khnum, the regent of Thoth whose might is great, who pleases the two Lands, who gives the people in perfection to the Two Ladies, who Neith, the Lady of Sais, makes strong, who Hathor praises for her popularity.” – Inscription from the Temple of Edfu

Helped install the Buchis bull
“There appeared Buchis, the living Ba of Re, the manifestation of Re, who was born of the Great Cow, Tenen united with the Eight Gods. He is Amun who goes on his four feet, the image of Monthu, Lord of Thebes, Father of the Fathers, the Mother of the Mothers, who formed the Ennead, who renews the life of every one of the gods. He is the image of Onnophris, the justified, the sacred image of the Ba of Re, the bik n nb in … he came to Hermonthis in the goodly festival of the twentieth day of Pakhons, the festival of Monthu, Lord of Hermonthis, his seat of eternity. He reached Thebes, his place of installation, which came into existence aforetime, beside his father, Nun of Old. He was installed by the King himself in year 1, Phamenoth 19. The Queen, the Lady of the Two Lands [Kleopatra VII], the goddess who loves her father, rowed him in the barque of Amun, together with the boats of the King, all the inhabitants of Thebes and Hermonthis and priests being with him. He reached Hermonthis, his dwelling-place on Mechir 22. The length of his life was 24 years, 1 month, and 8 days. His Ba went up to heaven as Re.” – The Buchis Stele

It was feared that she might bring about the end of the world
“And thereupon shall the whole world be governed by the hands of a woman and obedient everywhere. Then when the Widow shall o'er all the world gain the rule, and cast in the mighty sea both gold and silver, also brass and iron of short lived men into the deep shall cast, then all the elements shall be bereft of order, when the god who dwells on high shall roll the heaven, even as a scroll is rolled; and to the mighty earth and sea shall fall the entire multiform sky; and there shall flow a tireless cataract of raging fire, and it shall burn the land, and burn the sea, and heavenly sky, and night, and day, and melt creation itself together and pick out what is pure. No more laughing spheres of light, nor night, nor dawn, nor many days of care, nor spring, nor winter, nor the summer-time or autumn. And then of the mighty god the judgment midway in a mighty age shall come, when all these things shall come to pass.” – Pseudo-Sibylline Oracles, 3.75-92

Public intellectuals

Let's hear it for the public intellectuals - those splendid thinkers who can not only think deeply and originally about a subject, but communicate it to the general public without dumbing it down. In other countries, it seems, they are better at appreciating intellectuals, particularly philosophers. But perhaps, as David Gauntlett argues, it's something about the way the arts are funded? Or is it just that we are a nation of lowbrows?

Whatever it is, let's ignore the zeitgeist and celebrate those British public intellectuals.

Three cheers for Jonathan Miller, Roy Porter, Simon Schama, Ronald Hutton, Iris Murdoch, A S Byatt, David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking, Alain de Botton (yes I know he's Swiss but he writes in English), George Monbiot, Melvyn Bragg and the fabulous In Our Time programme, and many more. I know that Bo will say that Rowan Williams should be on this list, but I would argue that he shot himself in the foot with his comments about sharia law. But he can be on the list, I guess.

Friday, 31 July 2009

New Doctor

The Bluestocking commends the tweediness and general chappishness of the new Doctor Who, but we are not too sure about the bow-tie. There are so many elegant and suitably retro choices of neckwear, that one would think that something rather more original than the slightly weedy looking bow-tie sported by Mr Smith could have been chosen. Of course the tweed jacket, being hard-wearing and reasonably impervious to stains, is an excellent choice for slumming it around the universe and mixing with all those grubby aliens. But I do feel he should have chosen brown shoes to go with the brown tweed. Surely Doctor Marten's practical footwear is available in brown? Indeed, I have just checked on Mr Google's patent search machine, and they have a marvellous colour called Peat - very appropriate to accompany tweed.

In a spirit of constructive criticism, may I refer our esteemed Broadcasting Corporation to the gentleman's guide to the tying of ties, from which they could have chosen a Windsor Knot, a Half-Winsor, a Pratt-Shelby or a Four-in-Hand.

Ladies (and gentlemen of a transgender persuasion) may be interested in this scarf-tying guide.

Celia Fiennes

Celia Fiennes was an intrepid lady traveller who journeyed through the island of Britain in the late seventeenth century. She was also the ancestor of the explorer Ranulph Fiennes, and numerous other famous scions of the house of Fiennes.
Fiennes never married and in 1691 she moved to London, where she had a married sister. She travelled around England on horseback between 1684 and c.1703, "to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise" (Journeys). At this time the idea of travel for its own sake was still quite novel, and Fiennes was exceptional as an enthusiastic woman traveller. Sometimes she travelled with relatives, but she made her "Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall" of 1698 accompanied only by one or two servants. Her travels continued intermittently until at least 1712 and took her to every county in England.
A Vision of Britain Through Time has excerpts from her books:
I went to see Hampton Court 10 mile from London; it looks Like a little town ye buildings runn so great a Length on yeground, Ye old buildings and ye New part wch King William and Queen Mary built. Ye Queen took Great delight in it. Ye new was but just ye shell up and some of ye Roomes of State Ceil'd but nothing ffinished. The roomes were very Lofty, round a Large Court and all the appartments intire. The old buildings were on the other side the priory Garden: there was the water Gallery that opened into a ballcony to ye water, and was decked with China and ffine pictures of ye Court Ladyes drawn by Nellor. Beyond this came severall Roomes, and one was pretty Large, at ye four Corners were little roomes like Closets or drawing roomes, one pannell'd all wth jappan, another wth Looking Glass, and two wth fine work under pannells of Glass. There was the queens Bath and a place to take boat in the house. The Gardens were designed to be very ffine, Great fountaines and Grass plotts and gravell walkes, and just against the middle of ye house was a very large fountaine, and beyond it a large Cannal Guarded by rows of Even trees that runn a good way. There was fine Carving in the Iron Gates in the Gardens wth all sorts of ffigures, and Iron spikes Round on a breast wall and severall Rows of trees.
Her style is somewhat breathless but has a charm all its own.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Happy birthday

Kate BushEmily Brontë
... to Kate Bush and Emily Brontë, two eminent bluestockings who share the same birthday, July 30th. This was one of the things that apparently inspired Ms Bush to write the song Wuthering Heights, based on Miss Brontë's eponymous novel.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Ladies of Llangollen

I just found out about these two lovely ladies, who were intellectuals and very close friends.
The Ladies of Llangollen were two upper-class Anglo-Irish women whose relationship scandalised and fascinated their contemporaries. The Ladies are interesting today as an example of historical romantic friendship (and some would argue lesbianism).

Lady Eleanor Butler (1739–1829) was considered an over-educated bookworm by her family, who occupied Kilkenny Castle. She spoke French and was educated in a convent in France. Her mother tried to make her join a convent because she was becoming a spinster.

The Honourable Sarah Ponsonby (1755–1832) lived with relatives in Woodstock, Ireland. She was a second cousin of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and thus a "second-cousin-once-removed" of his daughter the Lady Caroline Lamb.

Apparently they had a lapdog called Sappho. They lived at Plas Newydd, and their friends included Robert Southey, Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron and Scott, but also the Duke of Wellington; industrialist Josiah Wedgwood; and aristocratic novelist Caroline Lamb.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Camille Paglia

This is my first post on this esteemed blog.

Continuing the theme of writing about 'People we Like', we come to Camille Paglia. Whilst not exactly a bluestocking, she is certainly a female intellectual, as well as a love-her-or-loathe-her personality. I'll never forget my dear friend Melanie spluttering at Paglia's frequent references to 'My Sixties generation', with her patented brand of fabulous, withering scorn.

It would be fair to say that Camille Paglia arouses strong reactions in people, from those who see her as the saviour of feminism and Academe to those who regard her bluntly as 'a snake in snake's clothing', as a recent American feminist organisation labelled her. Wherever you stand ideologically, she will infuriate you and make you nod vigorously by turns. She's an Italian-American motormouth, a Professor of Humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, a shameless self-publicist, a bisexual rock-buff, and a massively cultured, hugely learned, and viciously witty Joan Rivers of the lecture hall. Something of a one-off, in other words.

Paglia is a scourge of delusion about human nature, as she sees it. This can be what she regards as Judeo-Christian failure to acknowledge humanity's inner darkness, our emergence from the roiling pit of chaotic 'pagan' nature; or it can be late 20th century feminism's weepy victim mentality, lack of aesthetic sense and parallel blindness to the primal forces of sex and violence that surge inside human beings. A typical quote is as follows: 'It is capitalist America that produced the modern independent woman. Never in history have women had more freedom of choice in regard to dress, behavior, career, and sexual orientation.'

Formidably learned, Paglia also undercuts the theory and jargon that winds around current academia like a serpent's coils. She sees it as frigid and word-obsessed, useless in gaining an understanding of our blitzkrieg electonic visual culture, with its constant barrage of images. By solipsitically contemplating the verbal sign, theory is oblivious to the body and its rhythms, chaotic forces of desire, anger and violence that pulse through art. She brings us back to the body, and out of the head. Part of the problem that contemporary feminism has with her is that they see her as a biological essentialist. In other words, she argues that men and women have fundamental differences which derive from biology, especially hormonal factors, and are not socially constructed. She also accepts as a truth the old identification of Woman with Nature. This is currently a very unfashionable position, but I suspect there is a fair degree of commonsense truth about it. But they point is that Paglia doesn't say women should be limited by their biological nature. She asserts the power of the will, revels in phantasmagoric, decadent disruptions of this simplistic opposition between 'male' and 'female'. No doubt she'd describe herself as a ferocious amazon with a cold, clear male will.

Her first book was the doorstep-sized Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990). I was very lucky (some would said 'permanently tainted') to come across Sexual Personae as the first academic critical book I ever read, aged sixteen. (The chapter on the Marquis de Sade was certainly a bit of an eye-opener.) Based on her doctoral dissertation at Yale, it is a ferocious new reading of western culture, and is simply enormous in scope. As she says: 'Art is a vast, ancient interconnected web-work, a fabricated tradition. Over-concentration on any one point is a distortion.' Building on Nietzsche, she sees culture from the time of Egypt as a battleground between the hieratic, eye-obsessed, rational, chilly and male forces of the 'Apollonian', and the squidgy, chaotic, female, chthonian, order-resisting forces of the 'Dionysian'. Her deepest ambition, she writes, is 'to fuse Frazer with Freud.'

According to Paglia, sex and violence, pain and perversity are at the heart of artistic creation, our human mediation of nature. The book is eccentric, brilliant, strange and dark, zooming from Homer to Byron, Shakespeare, Blake, Balzac, Italian Renaissance art, Virgil, Wilde, and The Faerie Queene...She is fond of startling pop-culture analogies, cataloguing a gallery of shifting sexual personae and archetypes. These include the 'Mercurius': the androgynous woman-boy, verbal, presexual, constantly shifting personae, ungrounded, volatile and harum-scarum - Shakespeare's Cleopatra and Rosalind, Botticelli's Mecury in the Primavera, Auntie Mame. (That Shakespeare's Cleopatra is like Auntie Mame is a brilliant insight, and when I saw Frances Barber as Cleopatra at the Globe in 2006 the rightness of Paglia's aperçu was confirmed.)

To continue on this theme for a moment, another archetpe of western culture which she detects is the 'Tiresias', or 'Male Mother' - this includes the river gods of Italian Renaissance fountains, their massive pectorals echoing female breasts, surrounded by laughing infants--but also American chat-show hosts with their schmoozy manner. Then comes the 'Epicoene', or 'Man of Beauty': Byron's self-presentation is brilliantly compared to that of Elvis Presley. Up springs the Gorgon, the Ephebe...Rita Hayworth rubs shoulders with Spenser's Britomart, the Golden Age of Hollywood with Classical Epic and Euripidean tragedy.

As far as Paglia is concerned, paganism never ended. It continues in the gorgeous sex-and-violence soaked imagery of Catholicism, hieratic and eye-intense, and now appears again fully-formed in Hollywood. She sometimes calls her system of thought 'Italian Pagan Catholicism', meaning that it's ultravisual and packed with sex and violence, that it's about the senses and sensuality, that it's realistic, passionate and not frigid, and that it lacks the chilly Protestant distrust of iconography and the display of the body.

As a close-reader, capturing the mood of a piece, Paglia is astonishingly gifted. 'The greatest honor that can be paid to the work of art, on its pedestal of ritual display, is to describe it with sensory completeness. We need a science of description. Criticism is ceremonial revivification.' This approach has profoundly influenced the way I teach. Brilliant close-reading and a Paterian style (with some amazing purple-prose) combine in this bizarre, fanatical, rather marvellous book. There is a fabled second volume underway, looking at popular culture, and presumably examining Hollywood through the eyes of the ancient world. My favourite personal example which has been rumoured to be appearing in Sexual Personae Vol. II is a comparison of the famous bust of Nefertiti and David Bowie, perfect down to their wierd, mismatched-eyes.

Sexual Personae catapulted Paglia to some fame, and since then she has capitalised on it, making a name for herself as a cultural commentator and wisecracking provocateuse. As an opinionated, even obnoxious, maverick, she crops up everywhere. She mystifies and maddens. Pro-sex, pro-risk, pro-porn, the clash between her and the feminist mainstream was like watching a bunny be sucked back into the blades of a Boeing 747 engine. (And, for the record, Paglia wasn't the bunny.) She waded into just about any argument, laying about her with her verbal broadsword, famously ripping Andrea Dworkin to shreds. She uttered the unsayable, suggesting that the bizarre multiple assaults alledged by the morbidly obese Dworkin, famous for her 'all men are rapists' line, were a sign 'of her own inability to cope with life rather than the Patriarchy's fault.' She also, hilariously, wrote that Dworkin 'neglects to mention her most obvious problem: food...'

A vicious intellectual attack like that will then be followed up by a brilliant miniature article on 'Alice in Wonderland as Epic Hero', or an elegant, sensitive piece on the history of love poetry in Greek, Latin and English. A fax war with Julie Burchill ('Fuck off, you crazy old dyke!' quoth Burchill) came hard on the heels of a scathing and mordant critique of the croneyism and jargon-choked vapidity of modern Academia, 'Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders', delivered as an address to the students of MIT.

It seems to be working. I was delighted to see that Naomi Wolf got roundly booed for her feeble attack on the elderly Harold Bloom, alleging that he touched her thigh--the horror, the horror!--after too much sherry when she invited him over for dinner as a grad student, twenty years before. So what? It doesn't say much for feminism if a (then) supposedly highly-intelligent and confident young woman can't say 'Eew, back off, grandpa' in response to a drunken pass from a professor. (I was once groped as a student by a very drunk, very famous popular historian of dear old London town. So what? I found it hilarious.) To Paglia's delight, and mine, many commentators, most of them women, rolled their eyes and wearily said Grow up, and grow a backbone when the Wolf-Bloom story broke. An amusing commentary can be found here.

Back to Paglia. It's easy to forget that during all this fame (but not, I suspect, fortune) Paglia continued to teach full time, and if her recent book Break, Blow, Burn is anything to go by she must be a truly fantastic classroom teacher--it's unusual for Professors in American Universities to be so hands-on: classroom drudgery is normally left to grad students to do, one of Paglia's major criticism of American Humanities teaching. That book - close readings of 43 poems, from Shakespeare to Joni Mitchell's song-lyric 'Woodstock' - is a brilliant introduction to poetry and should be on the English A-Level syllabus. In spiny, terse snippets she captures each poem's atmosphere before carefully teasing meanings from it. She dismisses the word-fetishism of frigid post-structuralism and return poetry to the savage realms of nature and the flesh. It's sharp, earthy, and intellectual - Paglia's vision of poetry showing us 'the interconnectedness of the universe.'

Maddening, crazy, formidable, quixotic, I think she deserves respect. I won't say 'even if you don't agree with her', because no one is likely to agree with her all the time. Or even much of the time. But if you want to be made to think about nature and culture, she can't be bettered. You're unlikely to like what you read first off; it's uncomfortable but compelling. Paglia's furious pagan morality, her acerbic wit, astonishing range and depth of learning, frenetic personality and sheer bloody chutzpah derserve attention and consideration. She can't be dismissed as easily as her numerous critics allege.

Certainly, she inspired me when Academia seemed dead and dry as dust, and made me stand up and say what I think. She introduced me to dozens of brilliant critics and thinkers, including the psychoanalyst Norman O. Brown, the philosopher Suzanne Langer, the sociologist Gillian Rose, the critics Wendy Lesser and Leslie Fiedler, the historians Oswald Spengler and Denis de Rougemont, and many others. She writes with superb clarity on both academic topics and popular culture. Reading her pithy, sinewy phrases honed my writing skills. So - all hail Camille! Give that woman a star in the amazonian--and the blustocking--firmament.


For a sample of her writing, here is an article on the Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann, written for the Classics journal Arion.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Frances Power Cobbe

Frances Power Cobbe was one of the most accomplished and influential Irish women of the 19th century. She was an early feminist, campaigning for female suffrage and for the acceptance of women into the ministry, and she devoted much of her later life to the cause of animal welfare, founding in 1875 the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection.
~ Bill Darlison, The Secret Life of Bees
Frances Power Cobbe Frances Power Cobbe definitely qualifies as a bluestocking.
Active in several social reform movements, Cobbe placed women and the unfortunate at the center of her analysis. Today she is best known for her anti-vivisection work, campaigning energetically against the use of live animals in scientific research. Yet she had devoted much of her energy to the nineteenth century British women's movement. An early British suffragist, she also supported higher education for women and the reform of poor laws. Her strongest efforts were directed to alleviating violence against women, especially violence by men against their wives.
~ Sunshine for Women
She also met a hero of mine, Rammohun Roy, who campaigned against widow-burning in India.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch... brilliant writer of scintillating prose, philosopher, fearless sexual adventurer, communist, and sharp observer of the human condition. Definitely qualifies as a top-notch bluestocking. Three cheers for Iris!

Her later novels went off the boil a bit, but the glittering and claustrophobic atmosphere of The Bell (about a small quirky spiritual community and its internal tensions) assures its place as a classic. Her writing style was similar to that of A S Byatt (another great bluestocking). I can honestly say that Iris Murdoch taught me to look at the world in a different way.

She read classics, ancient history, and philosophy at Somerville College, Oxford, and philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge, where she attended a number of Ludwig Wittgenstein's lectures. In 1948, she became a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford.

There are even videos of her on YouTube. Whatever next? It's almost as though intellectuals were becoming popular and mainstream!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Women are fat, always.

[A semi-oldie/semi-goodie from the Lover of Strife vaults.]

I just saw the most fucked-up mind-boggling, bobbin-popping commercial.

It was an ad for a hotel chain, who, for the purposes of this blog, shall remain nameless. The premise is that a group of corporate business types are having breakfast at their hotel before heading out for an important meeting. One of them, Boss Guy, gives a hearty pep talk, then directs his attention to an attendee named Wilson.

[The camera pans to Wilson. Wilson's a big boy; tall and doughy; no perceivable neck.]

Apparently, the airline has lost Wilson's luggage, and as such, Wilson has nothing to wear to the important meeting. But no worries, because Wilson and Brenda...

[The camera pans to Brenda: she's about 5'5" in heels, slim and healthy.]

...Wilson and Brenda are the same size. So Wilson is wearing one of Brenda's blouses, and everyone is telling him how good he looks in it. How (I'm not making this up) slimming the blouse is. Being a poly-blend and all.

Let's break this down, just to make sure everyone caught the important part. The tall, doughy man and the short, slim woman are the same size. That is, they wear the same size in clothes. On account of she's lean, but not anorexic. And he's overweight. So, you know, same difference.

Not to make crass generalizations, but this sums up a sizable chunk of what is wrong with... well, everything.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Because every movement needs a theme song

We at The Bluestocking commend Susan Boyle on a brilliant showing; for being true to herself; for ignoring adversity (step 2, incidentally); and for not going overboard with her makeover... which was, in case you haven't found the right words, a study in sensible, understated elegance.

Wouldn't she be fabulous as the Official Voice of the Bluestockings? Now we just need a strong, postmodern anthem for her to own. I have thoughtfully provided a selection from which to choose, some of which may be a bit more postmodern than others:

"Children of the Revolution" by T. Rex

"I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles

"Galileo" by the Indigo Girls (I'm not sure if Ms. Boyle would be interested in indie folk-rock, but it couldn't hurt to ask.)

"Star" by Erasure

"Love is a Battlefield," or "We Belong," or pretty much anything else that comes out of Pat Benatar's mouth.

"Stronger" by Britney Spears (Hey, now. Let's not give up on Britney. She hasn't flashed the paparazzi in ages.)

"When You're Good to Mama" from Chicago

"Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" from Damn Yankees (My friend Sarah told me not to include this one, but I totally think it could work.)

That song at the end of The Wicker Man that the villagers sing while waiting for Edward Woodward to catch on fire.

Something by U2. Probably from The Joshua Tree.

What other songs would you suggest? Keeping Ms. Boyle's signature sound in mind, I've focused primarily on showtunes and pop numbers that translate best when belted at the top of one's lungs, but do feel free to explore other genres.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Fabulous female occultists